Not so long ago, I was writing a story about the incredible variety of adventures that take place beneath the 1000 Islands. Above the waves of the majestic St. Lawrence River, there is a venerable bounty of experiences to be had; both on the water, and dry land. From boating to camping, hiking, or cycling – there is no shortage of ways to plan a unique trip and forge memories that you will keep forever.
Lately, I’ve been truly inspired by the breathtaking panoramic landscapes and natural features that the 1000 Islands region is famous for. Seemingly endless emerald and blue vistas that stretch off into the distance like a world all its own. Sprawling forests, and gorgeous trails ripe for exploring. Scenic drives along the shoreline, and time spent out on the river. The wind in your face, the warmth of the sun and the sheer majesty of it all.
For this particular experience, we decided to create a custom day-trip and get a good sampling of the many ways to enjoy the 1000 Islands. My wife (photographer, and partner in story crafting): Heidi Csernak quickly set to work on planning a dynamic itinerary. Our primary goal with this story was to include some of the iconic attractions – while making sure to visit a few lesser known, but equally brilliant locations between Gananoque, and Mallorytown Landing.
Panache Bakery in Gananoque
Our trip begins in the Town of Gananoque, Ontario – the fabled Gateway to The Thousand Islands. Gananoque is a prime destination for vacationers, and a fantastic starting point to discover the captivating 1000 Islands region. Our first stop, was at the famous Panache Bakery to score ourselves a delectable déjeuner to go.
Upon entering this quaint storefront located on Gananoque’s main strip, you’ll be instantly taken by its small, bright and intimate format. It has an authentic “small town” feel with a classic and welcoming motif. After taking a few steps in, I was quickly drawn to the glimmering display case – behind which a sumptuous array of baked finery sat lovingly arranged.
Choosing from such a variety of tempting items was rather difficult. We chose a pair of delicious looking cheese croissants, as well as an apple turnover for Heidi – and a raspberry scone for myself. With our coffees and mouthwatering munchables in-hand we left the cafe and set out toward the 1000 Islands Parkway, and the next stop on our road trip.
A Peaceful Morning Picnic at Gray’s Beach
A short drive East along the parkway, and situated just past Gananoque is a picturesque little roadside park called Gray’s Beach. This rest area is an ideal spot to have a picnic and get a splendid first look at the St. Lawrence River.
This quaint little rest area sports a picnic shelter, tables and some great photo opportunities with a panoramic backdrop. On-site you’ll find a gazebo style picnic shelter and tables that overlook a gorgeous open area that leads to a natural stone stairway to the water’s edge.
After enjoying our breakfast and a short walk around Gray’s Beach, we were ready to get back on the road – to visit a particularly interesting location in Lansdowne, Ontario.
Explore a Natural Wonderland at Landon Bay Centre – Lansdowne
Landon Bay is a unique natural reserve that encompasses 225 acres of lush forested areas and brilliant walking trails that range in difficulty from easy to moderate. Nestled within the world famous Frontenac Arch Biosphere, Landon Bay is easily one of the best casual hiking areas I have ever visited.
There are five trails at Landon Bay, each of them unique in their way. The trail that we sampled was the Donevan Trail, which was marked by a mythical looking stone archway like something from the pages of a storybook. The arch was flanked by gorgeous flowers on either side and added to the already fantastic atmosphere.
From the Donevan Trail, we made a quick detour to the “Easy Trail.” The terrain was perfect for beginners, which lead to some fantastic views of the St. Lawrence River. Landon Bay would be ideal for spending an entire day exploring, hiking and enjoying the natural splendour at work all throughout this wonderful hidden gem.
I could have easily spent the remainder of the day trying to spot Osprey or large cargo ships from the lookout point – but it was time to continue our trip!
Feeling on Top of the World at The 1000 Islands Tower – Hill Island
Stretching 400 feet above the horizon of Hill Island Ontario is a familiar and world famous landmark known as the 1000 Islands Tower. I was particularly excited to visit this iconic destination because despite living in the area for most of my life, I had never actually visited the tower.
I had heard plenty of stories about the amazing views from the top – and now it was my turn to experience it for myself! I’ve explored the 1000 Islands from many angles over the years – but nothing would compare to what I witnessed after the quick elevator ride to the top of the tower.
As I stepped off the elevator and gazed out over the horizon, I was able to get a real appreciation of just how immense the 1000 Islands region truly is. Stretching in all directions for as far as the eye can see was a sprawling and vexing landscape that put it all into perspective. From up here, you can see exactly why we call this region The Great Waterway.
The tower has three observation levels – each offering some sensational views of the area in all directions. It was on the main observation level that we had the pleasure of meeting staff member John Raas, who was kind enough to point out key points of interest and share several fascinating stories about the 1000 Islands region that date back to long before Canada was colonized.
When the time came to continue our epic road trip, It was pretty hard to pry ourselves away from the tower’s spectacular view. After experiencing it first hand, I can say with confidence that a trip to the top of the 1000 Islands Tower is an essential attraction to visit – that gives you an authentic and awe inspiring introduction to this magnificent area of South Eastern Ontario.
Bodacious Burgers at Cornwall’s Pub – Rockport
After our exhilarating experience at The 1000 Islands Tower, we returned to ground level and made our way to the charming riverside hamlet of Rockport. Situated in the “Heart of the 1000 Islands”, Rockport is a very popular destination for travellers and boaters from far and wide. This historic village is a shining example of the storied St. Lawrence River lifestyle with a unique vintage appeal.
We were getting pretty hungry at this point, so we headed to Cornwall’s Pub post-haste, for a bite and a frosty beverage on their lovely patio. The menu at Cornwall’s Pub is fantastic, with a range of delicious choices and traditional pub favourites. We decided to each have a Boathouse Burger with cheese and bacon.
The burgers themselves were absolutely legit and certainly hit the spot. They were sourced from local Angus beef and made in-house. Nothing compares to a handcrafted burger made with local beef – and paired with a cold pint of craft beer. It made for a perfect lunch in the sunshine amid the bustle of travellers as they came and went from the cruise boats docking nearby.
Palaces and Palisades Cruise – Rockport Boat Line
With our appetites completely satisfied we made our way to the main event of the trip: a breathtaking two-hour sightseeing cruise with Rockport Boat Line.
The tour that we selected was the popular Palaces and Palisades Cruise; a stunning trip through the St. Lawrence River that would take us beneath the 1000 Islands International Bridge, around the legendary Boldt Castle and through a fabled stretch of luxurious cottage country known as Millionaire’s Row.
The Palaces and Palisades Cruise is nothing short of a photographer’s wonderland. From beginning to end, the tour is loaded with fantastic views from the water. It’s a thrilling sensation to stand at the bow (front) of the ship, feel the wind in your hair and be surrounded by absolute paradise.
Once we arrived at Millionaire’s row, the tour transformed into a cool marine version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Some notable properties were Zavikon Island, which is home to the world’s shortest international bridge. Of course, the star of this showcase of elegant properties was Boldt Castle. The history behind this illustrious Rhineland castle is the ultimate fusion of both beauty and tragedy.
What stood out for me the most during this amazing cruise, was the sense of community out on the river. The passengers of nearly every boat that passed our vessel were all waving hello. From other travellers on tour boats to house boaters, jet-skiers and everything in between, there was an overwhelming sense of: “welcome!”
After returning to dry land, we decided to take a brief walking tour of the village. Rockport’s history goes back 200 years and was once a thriving shipbuilding port. Noteworthy landmarks are, of course, the Boathouse Inn and of course the rustic Rockport General Store. The stroll through Rockport is visually striking, with ornate murals that depict various eras throughout the hamlet’s two-century timeline.
Heidi and I were absolutely smitten with Rockport. This beautiful little town has a huge amount of intrigue and is now officially on my list of awesome weekend escapes.
Kick Back and Unwind at Mallorytown Landing
The final stop on our incredible road trip was the Thousand Islands National Park Visitor’s Centre located at Mallorytown Landing. As we arrived, the centre itself was closing, so we decided to walk along the surrounding trails and explore the park area.
Hugging the picturesque banks of the St. Lawrence River, Mallorytown Landing is a great spot for picnics with family or friends. There are well-maintained coal BBQ’s on-site as well as picnic areas and a delightful stone gazebo.
Along the pathway that leads to the water’s edge are several outdoor exhibits including commemorative stone carvings that honour the First Nations, and other exciting educational points of interest.
After a long and eventful day of exploring the enchanting 1000 Islands region, we were overjoyed to find a pair of Parks Canada’s iconic red Muskoka chairs, positioned conveniently right at the water. In the end, as the sun began to dip below the horizon; we were simply content to recline in those chairs, and unwind from the day’s adventures.
It was a most fitting end, to a completely unforgettable day.
Experience The Beauty of the 1000 Islands!
There is an endless list of fantastic ways to experience South Eastern Ontario. This story is but a small sampling of the premiere attractions and amazing destinations to choose from! As always, we’ve included a handy Google Map of this trip. Feel free to download it, and try this experience for yourself. Or, customise your own exciting journey and make it your own!
Until next time, thanks for reading!
*Photos: Heidi Csernak & Mike Hector
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